During pregnancy, a woman’s body goes through a number of incredible and dramatic physical changes to support and accommodate her growing baby.
These changes are kicked off by a sharp rise in both estrogen and progesterone – the chief hormones responsible for facilitating the progression of pregnancy. A woman’s body actually produces more estrogen during one pregnancy than she will during her entire non-pregnant life. These hormones have an effect on a woman’s body far beyond her reproductive organs. In fact, one of the most major changes to occur throughout pregnancy concerns the vascular system. These changes include:
- Increased blood volume and heart output: In order to supply enough oxygen and blood to the growing baby, a woman’s body, incredibly, produces 50 percent more blood during pregnancy. To handle this massive increase, her heart works 30 percent harder.
- Relaxed vein walls: Increased progesterone levels causes a woman’s vein walls to relax during pregnancy to allow blood to flow more efficiently to the placenta.
- Hypercoagulation: Increased estrogen levels cause several clotting factors in the blood to rise, a situation referred to as hypercoagulation. This phenomenon is thought to be an evolutionary adaptation to prevent postpartum hemorrhaging.
- Increased pressure on the blood vessels: As a woman’s uterus grows during pregnancy, more pressure is exerted on the blood vessels, particularly the vena cava, the large vein on the right side of the body that returns blood from your lower limbs to the heart.
These changes are incredibly common and typically produce mild symptoms that are no more than a nuisance to pregnant women. However, in some cases they can lead to more bothersome or even dangerous complications. These include:
- Venous Insufficiency: Nearly 80 percent of pregnant women experience some level of venous insufficiency, making it difficult for blood to flow back up from the feet and legs to the heart. The most common symptoms of venous insufficiency in pregnant women are leg pain, edema, cramps, and numbness or itching.
- Varicose Veins: Another common symptom of pregnancy-related venous insufficiency is the development of varicose veins. Women who experience swelling and pain in the legs during pregnancy are 40 percent more likely to develop varicose veins. Relaxed vein walls and increasing pressure on the blood vessels are both major risk factors for this condition.
- Blood Clots: Because of changes in blood coagulation, pregnant women are 4 to 5 times more likely to develop deep vein thrombosis (DVT) during pregnancy. 1 in 1000-2000 pregnant women are diagnosed with the condition each year.
Because pregnancy-related vascular problems are almost always temporary, treatment is usually conservative. Women are typically advised to manage these symptoms through healthy life-style choices like staying hydrated and keeping active, elevating their feet and legs when possible, and wearing compression socks, stockings, or tights, especially when traveling or spending significant periods of time sitting or standing.
The Role of Compression in Pregnancy
Compression gear plays a huge role in managing the uncomfortable and potentially dangerous symptoms of pregnancy-related vascular issues. Compression is a proven treatment for vascular insufficiency, varicose veins, and edema, and can help prevent blood clots from forming.
Since most pregnancy-related problems involve the legs and feet, compression socks, stockings, and tights are the best line of defense. These items work by creating graduated compression that begins at the point furthest from the heart and aids in pushing blood toward the center of the body.
Compression apparel has different levels of pressure designed for different needs. The pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). There are four main levels:
- Mild compression: 8-15 mmHg
- Medium compression: 15-20 mmHg
- Firm compression: 20-30 mmHg
- Extra Firm Compression: 30-40 mmHg
Your doctor can recommend the ideal compression level based on the severity of your symptoms, but medium compression is typically effective in managing pregnancy-related swelling and discomfort in the legs.
Compression gear also has a role to play when it comes to prenatal fitness. Staying active is very important when it comes to managing uncomfortable symptoms, staying fit, and helping to maintain a healthy pregnancy. Just like compression gear can help improve comfort and speed recovery for non-pregnant athletes, so too can it provide a number of benefits to pregnant women looking to keep up with their fitness regime throughout their pregnancies.
The Best Compression Products for Pregnancy
In most cases, pregnant women can benefit from the same compression products as the general public. In some cases, however, especially where tights are concerned, maternity-specific products are best. Below, we’ve put together the best compression products on the market to deal with the many pregnancy-related vascular issues.
Launched in 2016, SB Sox is a fairly new company. However, in that short time, they’ve made a huge impact on the compression socks market. These 20-30 mmHg graduated compression socks offer the right amount of pressure to attack all of the circulation issues pregnancy can throw at you. They come in four different sizes based on shoe size and calf circumference and are topped with a no-slip cuff to ensure comfort throughout the entire day. With 16 unique colors and patterns, these socks are a wonderful choice for women looking for compression socks that fit their lifestyle while offering excellent support. For those looking for lighter compression, SB SOX also makes their socks in 15-20mmHg.
During pregnancy, pain and discomfort can spread across the entire leg. In those cases, thigh high compression socks are a great option. Mojo Sports medical grade thigh high compression socks are a comfortable, durable, and versatile choice. With accurate sizing up to 5XL based on leg measurement, you can be sure that the size you get fits right across your entire leg. They are constructed of 78% Nylon and 22% Lycra Spandex, making them sturdy enough to provide strong 20-30 mmHg compression and thin and breathable enough to wear during workouts or under clothes for everyday use.
When it comes to compression tights, Preggers has you covered. They make a wide variety of colors and styles in both footed and footless tights. These footed, opaque tights offer mild 15-20 mmHg graduated compression to prevent swelling and keep legs feeling comfortable and energized throughout the day. The supportive top adjusts to your belly size and can be folded under or pulled over your belly for maximum comfort. These tights also come in 20-30 mmHg and 30-40 mmHg depending on your specific needs.
It can be very difficult to find a high quality, durable, and supportive pair of maternity compression leggings. In this category, TerraMed’s leggings delivery. The material is thick and opaque enough to be worn as pants, unlike many competitors. The belly portion grows with you so they can be worth throughout your pregnancy, and their true compression offers the support you need to keep your legs comfortable and healthy.
2XU is an extremely reliable company when it comes to compression gear in general and maternity gear specifically. There is no better pair of maternity compression fitness leggings on the market. This powerful support provides breathable comfort that can get you through tough workouts or simply through a tough day. The seam-free tummy panel never scratches and expands as you grow. With added lower back and upper body support to help with posture, these leggings can keep your entire body in great shape for the duration of your pregnancy.